Wednesday, April 25, 2007

How Herd Journalism Got Us Into Iraq

If given a choice, Thomas Jefferson famously said, he would choose newspapers without a government over government without newspapers.

When we invaded Iraq, we were effectively without either. Government lied, newspapers (the media) swallowed the lies.

Tonight on PBS, as he always does, Bill Moyers explores and highlights this national tragedy with the kind of reporting Americans didn’t get in 2002.

As a witness to McCarthyism and Watergate, the last century’s equivalent failures of American journalism, let me add a footnote.

There were good reporters then as there are now. It would be unfair to tar them all as too subservient and too fearful of losing access to sources to dig for the truth behind official lies. David Halberstam, who died yesterday, Woodward and Bernstein and Tom Wicker were exceptions back then. Seymour Hersh, Tom Ricks, James Mann and others are now.

Fear and cowardice are less the problem than the need to be “in the know,” to be savvy insiders rather than questioning outsiders. (Watch the smug I-really-know-what’s-going-on commentary on cable every night by pundit reporters of Newsweek, Washington Post, etc.)

Finding the truth is much harder than “cultivating sources” like Scooter Libby.

That kind of news was not what Jefferson had in mind.

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